Split-second decision making, relentless focus and courage are just some of the attributes any Formula One driver needs.
Charles Leclerc first stepped into a kart when he was four years old, and was hooked by the thrill of speed after he had his first lesson with his godfather and French racing driver Jules Bianchi.
But the financial support required for motorsport racing was an extra barrier, and as the years progressed, his family weren’t able to afford the cost of competing. That’s when manager Nicolas Todt stepped in, taking on Leclerc in 2012 and paying for his next season.
As Leclerc made his way, Bianchi endured a fatal crash in 2014 at the Japanese GP, spent nine months in a coma, and passed away the following year. Tragically, Leclerc’s father died in 2017, two experiences that the F1 star told the Guardian were “incredibly hard,” but made him “stronger as a person and as a driver.”
A family affair
These days, the 23-year-old driver has a watchful eye on younger brother Arthur Leclerc, an up-and-coming racer three years his junior, who recently joined the Ferrari Driver Academy and clinched his maiden F3 victory at Circuit Paul Ricard.
“I’m just very, very happy to see him doing so, so well,” Leclerc tells CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies. “I really hope that he will be joining me on the Formula One grid very soon, but it’s still a long way to go.”
Even though Leclerc celebrates his brother’s success, his protective instincts trump his ability to fully embrace his pursuit of the sport.
“I’m 10 times more stressed whenever it’s him racing compared to when I am racing, because when I have the helmet on, I don’t think about the danger of the sport,” he says.
“But whenever I see him from the outside, I start to think about all the bad scenarios that can happen,” he adds.
Ultimately, the foundation of their relationship lies off the track. “Whenever he needs help, he knows that I’m here for him and he can call me anytime […] but most of the time, we are just speaking about our lives, just like normal brothers will do.”
Growing up in Monaco
Leclerc was born and raised in Monte Carlo in Monaco, which is known for its cobbled streets, twinkling harbors and shiny white yachts.
He’s one of the 10,000 locals in the country, and comes from more humble beginnings than the majority of the population, many of whom are millionaires attracted to the French Riviera city state’s tax status.
The racing star isn’t jaded by the opulence, instead presenting a sense of gratitude and humility. “From outside, I don’t think it gives the same image as the image I have of my own city.”
“I have all my friends, all of my family, and there’s not all these glamorous parts of it, this party side. Of course, there’s also this side of Monaco, but I don’t feel it when I’m there, it’s more relaxing.”
For Leclerc, beneath the gilded veneer lies a rich history of fabled racers and spectacular circuits – most notably, the Monaco Grand Prix.
Known for its tight and twisty layout, the circuit has been a technically-challenging contest ever since it first appeared on the F1 calendar in 1950. Past victors include legends of the sport such as Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Graham Hill.
Leclerc says his upbringing in Monaco was key to his F1 career because he learned the merit of working hard and respecting others. “These two values are probably the most important.”
“Monaco has given me most of the values that I try to share in Formula One. I’m just very, very proud and very happy to be born there.”
Learning from fellow athletes
As someone who wants to reach the peak of his sport, Leclerc says he admires fellow athletes who can show their ability to excel, including Juventus and Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo, who recently equaled the all-time international goalscoring record at Euro 2020, met Leclerc when he visited Ferrari’s famous Maranello headquarters in May.
“He gave us some tips […] as an athlete. The way he prepares himself, et cetera, which was very, very interesting,” Leclerc says.
“Then we had some fun driving some cars. But we didn’t talk too much about work, it was more about having fun.”
When asked if Ronaldo was unfazed during his ride, Leclerc laughs. “Yeah, well, brave, I wouldn’t go that far, but I am sure that he enjoyed it. I think he was quite impressed by how much those cars are going fast.”
Nonetheless, he has a deep level of respect for the global icon. “He’s a legend of football, but not only (that). I think for every athlete, we are all very impressed by him […] he’s an amazing athlete.”
Fighting for the win
Leclerc is cautiously optimistic about his prospects for the rest of the season, recognizing that Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen are the two competitors most in contention for topping the standings in 2021.
“I’m not frustrated, but I want to be back in the fight with the top guys like we were in 2019. So there’s a lot of motivation for the whole team because we don’t want Ferrari to be fighting for fifth or sixth place,” he says.
“But on the other hand, it’s very good to finally see a fight between two teams for a world title. I think people are enjoying it.”
He’s not wrong. Fans and neutrals alike are relishing the battle between the teams, a dynamic Leclerc will no doubt see play out at the British Grand Prix in Silverstone. Taking place on Sunday, July 18, the race is scheduled to be held in front of a capacity crowd.
Having been staged behind closed doors in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Leclerc is looking forward to the return of spectators at the event.
“It’s amazing to finally see life getting back to normal a little bit. It’s been a long time and it’s great to feel the passion of the fans,” he says.
“I don’t know how much will be involved with the fans and how close we will be to them because of the bubble we are in. But we at least feel the support in the grandstand to see them while we are driving feels amazing.”
The future of Ferrari
Ferrari recorded its worst season in 40 years in 2020 and the current campaign sees the team fourth in the constructors’ championship. Leclerc is sixth in the drivers’ championship on 60 points, with teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. on 62 points.
“We are more or less the same age, we have the same interests, we play the same sports,” he says. “We are having good moments, but we are also working very well together with the team in hard moments […] to try and come together.”
Leclerc says Ferrari is focused on looking ahead to the 2022 season with the promise of a new car, while still “trying to to work as hard as possible” between races.
The 2022 season sees the introduction of new rules which will “create radically different looking cars, capable of harder, closer racing,” according to F1.
“A lot of the guys at home are focusing on the 2022 car, which will be a huge opportunity for us, but which will be very, very important for the years after it, because it’s a completely new car,” Leclerc says.
“And so there’s also part of the team that is still focusing on this year […] so it’s a fine balance.
“It’s small steps in the right direction, but it’s going in the right direction, which is very, very important.”